Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Goldilocks was not an Austinite

There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition
Rod Serling

      Way before I had ever heard the term "middle ground" I got one of my best lessons on the concept by simply growing up in Austin, Texas.  Every part of the world has strengths and weaknesses that help shape its peoples and one of the strengths of my hometown is nurturing creativity and individualism and I am nourished and grateful for that prevailing attitude in Austin. Unfortunately the flip side of that quality is a quietly unspoken pressure to "be cool". Hip people rule the world is the message I got growing up here, if your not cool you better move to Kansas. My apologies to Kansas, I just had to pick somewhere! So as a dutiful Austinite in my late teens early 20's I did my best to adopt a fa├žade of cool. Pricey clothes that looked cheap paired with the very slightest of sneers usually did the trick. The pressure to both "be in the know" and at the same time not give a damn was a fine line to walk for many a maturing Austinite. My natural personality is one of connecting to people rather than lording my coolness over them and very soon after cultivating my coolness I was tired of pretending. So I started thinking about what cool was and what it wasn't, well it wasn't "hot". At this point please remember I was a young young woman thinking through these issues. So, thinking about what was "hot" brought images of miniskirt wearing divas with sultry eyes to my young mind and I knew that I neither wanted to be cool or hot anymore and I set out to develop a "warm" personality. Ahhhh, welcome to the search for "middle ground" young Signe.

     Fast forward with me 25 or so years and here I am still searching for that middle ground. Scripture tells us that in our journey we are to "neither look left or right" but to keep our eyes on our path.  I do believe our paths are right on the middle ground where we are applying right efforts to our lives. If we are working our fingers to the bone or thinking to the point of rumination we are on one side of the path. If we are ignoring problems, sweeping dust under the rug, or generally slothful that is the other side of the path. But planting our feet firmly on our path requires right effort. Because I have an extra hard head that lessons often need to pounded into God has led me to work on handstand. Ok, now for some more perspective, I am middle aged now and trying to throw my ass over my head! So, of course, the other day I found myself alternating between kicking up so hard I could knock the wall down and alternately pathetically hopping up like a grasshopper in hospice. Neither action led to success in my activity. Our spiritual walks require the same middle ground idea. If we pursue God desperately and nonstop we are in danger of becoming more desperate and burned out. How many times in scripture does God call us to "be still" to rest? A lot! Then, in contrast,  if we bring not much effort our spiritual walks we reap the corresponding results of not much relationship to the Divine.

     We must take care to grow alternating with periods of rest and trust. This applies to every single area of our lives. My husband wants my attention, just not too much of it or his personal space feels encroached upon. My kitchen needs cleaning but scrubbing grout on my hands and knees for hours will just make me never want to clean it again.(at least this is my theory!) I have spent years on my yoga mat noticing when I am trying too hard and when I am lazy in my activity and I notice that I am not alone in vacillating between too much effort and not enough. But, the thing is, it is the steady effort of middle ground that leads us where we are going whether it is towards a clean kitchen or a handstand. So, in my journey towards middle ground I am learning to "be warm" with myself. It is crucial for us to be supportive of our own efforts to grow, to encourage ourselves like we would a good friend. Practice isn't just for yoga, it's for life and our practice should include a middle ground relationship with ourselves. Have you heard the expression  "a narcissist with self esteem issues" this is not middle ground. We must come to know our true selves with compassion, patience and love.
     So, in all my actions from prayer to sweeping to spending time in relationship I look for that Goldilocks attitude of not too much and not too little. Perhaps noticing the activities I give "too much" to and moving toward middle ground there will leave me more able to up the ante on activities I  give "too little" to and the seesaw of hot and cool will continue to balance towards warm. I am past trying to look cool and waaay past wanting to be hot so I will feel my feet and come to my body as they step lightly on the path of middle ground. Will you journey with me on the path of middle ground? Will you take time to notice how you allocate your energy and mindfully balance it out to the best of your current ability and then "be still" with me as God takes care of the rest? I hope your day is neither too hot or too cold, but just a Goldilocks kinda perfect!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

You Aren't Happy Yet?

     Happiness seems to be everywhere these days. Or, at least, the term happiness seems to be high on our cultures radar right now. I have just finished reading two books on the subject. The Happiness Project and The Happiness Advantage both clearly lay out paths to happiness and the benefits of happiness and I would recommend either as a good read. As a culture we are learning more about the health benefits and the social benefits of being happy and we are exposed to practical techniques for increasing our happiness, so why is it that so many people report being unhappy? Isn't it as simple as the memes littering my Facebook page say? "Chose Happiness" a manically grinning cat commands me as I sleepily sip my delicious hot beverage. But as I step into the public domain intentionally trying to catch a strangers eye to share a smile (because sharing increases happiness)I am met with a frosty wall of frowning smart phone watchers. For all of our privileges and freedoms in this country I see a relatively very low happiness level in the people of daily life. Sighing store clerks ennui drips down their elbows as they offer a lethargic hand full of change. Fellow drivers brows knit tightly to match their pressed lips is what I spy on the highway. Even the lady in the VW Bug with the fake flower has a grimace! When we know the importance of happiness in all areas of health and we have been given tools to grow happier, why all the cranky?
     Maybe the focus on joy is diminishing our joy. Is developing a sunny persona just another item on your endless to do list? Does it make you stressed that you are now supposed to be happy? Do you feel like someone telling you to chose joy is a little insulting? Well, it is insultingly simplified to say "chose joy"! We cannot just chose joy as if our emotions hung in our closet ready to be slipped over our heads. Telling a really sad person to just be happy is as effective as using a hair spray on a bald man. Like the stairway to heaven, the path to happiness is steep and winding and we just don't jump from now to happy in the space of one decision. What we can do, however, is take the first step towards happiness, becoming acquainted with our minds. The state of happiness, or any emotion really, is preceded by a thought that creates a chemical to manifest an emotion. So we don't work with our emotions but rather their building blocks, our thoughts. A good place to start with our thoughts is found in Philippians 4:8 which begins by telling us to think about what is true. Much of our unhappiness stems from anticipating unpleasant activities (ugh gotta go back to work on Monday morning). But if you are thinking about the future you are not thinking true thoughts but rather predicting. Truth is only found in this moment. Sometimes our unhappiness stems from memories of perceived injustice. Like elaborate tales woven by gifted story tellers, memories are neither true or not true, they are just memories. Instead of fishing for unhappiness in the past or future notice this moment what you are thinking and question if it is true. Are you thinking you will be happier when you lose 10 pounds, meet a mate, win the lottery...are these thoughts true? Are you thinking you would be happier if you didn't work so much or drink so much, is this true?

     By letting our thoughts go unchallenged we become victims of our own stories. But by recognizing that our thoughts are opinions we can begin to chose opinions that lead us closer to the quality of happiness. Like a butterfly happiness is hard to catch, but if we sit still enough for long enough maybe happiness will land on our shoulder. Your thoughts are not the boss of you, they are not the totality of you, they are merely stepping stones we lay to take us to our destination. Lay your stones mindfully and you may end up with a genuine smile that we can share.